A Mardi Gras Trip to New Orleans

A month ago, my mom invited me to New Orleans for Mardi Gras.  She hadn’t been back for Mardi Gras since she was pregnant with me, so it only felt right that I should be there if she was going.  I said “YES!”  And so did Joey and we were beyond excited.

I think a MAJOR misconception about Mardi Gras, is that it all takes place on Bourbon Street and that you have to take your top off to get beads and while that sort of thing is happening on Bourbon, most of Mardi Gras takes place elsewhere and it’s family-friendly.  I saw so many families, with kids, having the best time together and look, we never even set foot in the French Quarter.   Let me tell you what we did instead.

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We maybe took a Spirit flight that got into Nola at 1 AM, but it was cheap so oh well!  I’m sorry for the dark and blurry picture, but let me explain.  Back in 2012, my sister and I attended our first Mardi Gras and, after taking us to a balcony party on Bourbon where we threw all the beads our hearts could desire, my Uncle went to drive us back home but we literally ran into a barricade.  He got out of the car and proceeded to move it, when a cop showed up and they had a brief argument, before she made us turn around.  Once back in the car, I reminded him that he was wearing a jester’s hat.  I requested that he wear that exact hat when he picked us up from the airport and to my SHEER DELIGHT, he did! 😛

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We slept in the next day, then headed to breakfast at Surrey’s Uptown because I could not get those Shrimp & Grits out of my head.  Happy to report they were just as good as I remembered.  Emily joined us!  Afterward, the three of us walked Magazine, stopping into a pop art gallery, Fleurty Girl and finally, the Craft Beer Cellar, where I more or less forced Joey to get a beer because he had taken like 10 work phone calls during our walk and seemed very stressed.

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It got pretty rainy that evening so we figured our Muses parade plan was done for and went to dinner at Blue Oak BBQ instead.  I thought it was so good!!!  We wanted it all so we got the “all meats, all sides” to share and man, that rib felt like changing.  By this point, the rain had cleared out, so why not head to Muses??

All the floats are ridden by women and they occasionally throw out a shoe they’ve decorated.  It’s a hot commodity and I went home with one!!!  I was so happy and so covered in glitter.  Also, there was a group of men all dressed as Freddie Mercury and seeing them all walk by, singing along to “We Will Rock You” was just too much fun.  This was Joey’s first ever Mardi Gras parade and I think it was a good introduction 🙂

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On Friday, we grabbed a quick breakfast then hit the road to run some very important errands.  First up, KING CAKE!!!  Not any King Cake, though, a Dong Phuong King Cake, specially ordered by my uncle.  I held this box on my lap and it smelled SO GOOD.  We also picked up crawfish, then the rest of the supplies at an outrageously busy Walmart.  My uncle has boiled us crawfish twice now and it is so amazing.  I feel so lucky!  This batch was seriously so good.  Spicy and flavorful and those crawfish were a real nice size.  Don’t worry, we had room for King Cake afterward.  We maybe all ate two pieces, except my mom, who ate three.  I love her!

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Saturday!  Endymion Day!  Joey and I walked over to District Donuts to grab breakfast and I ate a “taco” that was basically a baby burrito and was not mad about it.  So good!  The big parade on Saturday is Endymion and you best be prepared for it.  My uncle has access to a lot on the parade route (THANK GOD), so we showed up around noon and the place was packed already.  We walked around before and got to see bands playing on front porches, parade ladders (guys, I want one!) and all the floats lined up!  We also ate muffulettas for lunch and more on that later but it tasted really good at the time.

Endymion is just so cool!  Flo Rida was on one of the first floats and Joey caught a football he threw!  Not going to lie, the float riders were straight CHUCKING beads and frisbees and footballs and I was maybe doing more ducking than catching, but it was still fun.  I think my favorite part was my mom yelling “throw lighty things!” once the sun went down.  Don’t worry, we got some glow stick necklaces.

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We went to Bacchus on Sunday night and even though it was cold and I started to not feel very good halfway through, I think this might be my favorite parade!  Plus we managed to tag along with my uncle’s friend and neighbor Laura to the most beautiful house, with an epic view of the parade.  I didn’t mind it one bit!

This is sadly where this vacation must come to an end, because I got sick that night, my uncle got sick that night and my mom got sick that night.  I figured it was food poisoning, but the only thing we all overlapped on was that muffuletta and Joey, who didn’t get sick that night, ate the most BY FAR.  We were all bedridden the entire next day and I was still struggling when we flew home on Tuesday at 6 AM (ugh!).  I barely got off the couch, once we were back home and I don’t think I really started to feel better until Friday or Saturday.  So that’s a sad ending to an otherwise wonderful trip.

Mostly though, I want to remember (almost) everything about this trip.  I want to remember having dinner with my mom and Joey at Root Down inside DIA before our flight.  I want to remember hearing someone order a burger with extra lettuce (???) while we waited at the terminal.  I want to remember the humidity and the smell of New Orleans that hit me when I got off the plane.  I want to remember seeing that jester hat.  I want to remember standing in line at Fleurty Girl with my mom.  I want to remember looking back while we were at Muses and seeing my mom and uncle standing together.  I want to remember asking my mom to hold my parade loot and seeing her stuff it all inside her coat.  I want to remember using a light-up ring as a flashlight.  I want to remember all the arrangements my uncle made for crawfish and Endymion and how he did it all, even though he wasn’t feeling well.  I want to remember eating that King Cake.  I want to remember putting glitter on my mom and Joey’s faces and thinking how much better my sister would have been at it and missing her a lot.  I want to remember having breakfast at District Donuts, just Joey and I.  I want to remember the float with the band from Michigan rocking out at both Endymion and Bacchus.  I want to remember all the families, camping out, just enjoying themselves before the parades.  I want to remember how beautiful those floats were in the daytime.  I want to remember seeing Harry Connick Jr. visiting his dad’s house across the street (OMG!).  I want to remember being able to share this fun experience with the people I love best ♥ 

Best Tastes 2017: From Our Kitchen

We are very quickly running out of days in 2017, which means it’s time to roll those end-of-the-year “best of” type posts.  Maybe next year, I’ll be organized enough to give you a list that’s more comprehensive of ALL THE THINGS that made 2017 good — i.e. books, podcasts, vacations, albums, TV shows, etc. — but for now, I’m sticking to what I know best… aka food!  First up, homemade meals that wowed me most.  From dinners that turned a regular weeknight into something special to more ambitious baking projects to favorites that we make over and over because they’re just that good, here’s the best things to come from our kitchen in 2017!

United States of Meatloaf // You ain’t never had a friend like me meatloaf like this.  It’s so tender and juicy and that glaze just takes the whole thing to another level.  Every time we make it, we’re astounded at how good it is.  In the vault! 

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Ginger Cashew Chicken Curry// I mean, if a recipe calls for five tablespoons of butter, you already know it’s going to be good, but this was even better than I ever could have imagined.  I remember it snowed the day we made/ate this and that winter weather plus this luxurious bowl of comfort food had me straight giddy.

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BA’s Best Guacamole // I spent 4 hours makes enchiladas from scratch but I think I liked this 5-minute guacamole better.  My sister makes this recipe all the time and she knows a thing or two about guacamole, so I trusted her on this one and she was so right… this is THE BEST guacamole.  No tomatoes, the way guac should be.  

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Garlic & White Wine Pasta with Brussels Sprouts// No joke, I waited all year to make it to Brussels sprout season just so I could make this pasta.  It is SO easy to make and you will not believe how creamy and saucy those noodles get.  This recipe is just incredible!

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Charred Chicken with Sweet Potatoes and Oranges // When you see Jeff Mauro raving about this recipe, you know it’s gonna be a winner!  The chicken maybe smoked the hell out of our house, but it was worth it because this was an unexpected showstopper.  Joey was less enthused about the seemingly uncomplimentary flavors but I LOVE LOVE LOVED it. 

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Spicy Cauliflower Burgers // These take a bit of work.  Especially if you go the extra mile and make the slaw, chipotle mayo and Magic Green Sauce to go with.  And honestly, don’t half ass on those toppings because they might MAKE the burger.  Everything worth doing, is worth doing right.  Joey and I were smitten every time we heated up the leftovers.  Yeah, even as leftovers, these are dang incredible. 

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Mardi Gras King Cake// It took several hours, but I was SO DELIGHTED with myself when all was said and done.  The dough came together quickly and the whole rolling and braiding was easier than I thought.  It was my first try and I nailed it!  And as pretty as it looked, it tasted even better.  I was kind of worried it was a little hard on the outside but I ended up loving that crispy exterior over the moist cinnamon sugar-swirled inside.  Sure beat this one

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Shrimp Étouffée// To continue the Mardi Gras theme!  The Sunday before, I made my own shrimp stock, then I made this for dinner on actual Fat Tuesday and OH MY GOSH, is there anything better than the smell of butter and flour cooking together??  I didn’t think so, but then I took a bite of the finished product and was like “THIS TASTES EVEN BETTER THAN THE ROUX SMELLED!”  So good, so satisfying, so spicy, so perfect.  It immediately went “in the vault,” aka I hand wrote it in my spiral recipe notebook and that’s not something I take lightly. 

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Pan-Seared Pork Tenderloin MedallionswithLime, Soy and Maple Drizzle// It’s a two-parter and it ain’t fancy but it’s GOOD.  I made this one Saturday night when Joey was out of town and it felt like the best Treat Yo Self moment.  We both ate the leftovers and with an “OH MY GOD!” Joey confirmed that I had cooked something especially delicious.  That drizzle kind of knocks it out of the park.  

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Veggie Shepherd’s Pie // How I made it through 27 years on Earth before combining sweet potato and goat cheese, I’ll never know but I finally did it and I’m never looking back.  I seemed to be the only one so taken aback by this flavor combo but every time I ate it, all I could think was “HOW’S THIS SO GOOD?!” 

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Banh Mi Sliders // I probably don’t need to tell you (again) how much I love this meal. 

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Grilled Margherita Pizza// If you’ve made as many pizzas in your life as we have, you don’t need a recipe but we were inspired by this one right here.  And if you’ve never grilled a pizza, make this and get ready for a life-changing experience.  Adding pepperoni or mushrooms and olives to your standard margherita is also very very wise. 

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Cashew Ice Cream // If it’s gotta be vegan, it’s gotta be THIS cashew ice cream.  Creamy isn’t even strong enough a word for what this is. 

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And now we’re reached the salad portion of this post.

Rainbow Chicken Salad // I know, a salad probably shouldn’t be on any Best Of lists, but look, this one has chicken and feta and almonds and grapes and an almond butter dressing that I could actually probably drink.  Joey RAVES about this salad every time we make it and come to think of it, so do I. 

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Superfood Salad// I totally thought a dressing of lime juice and olive oil was going to be super boring but I ended loving this entire salad, simple dressing included.  Basically, anything that combines roasted sweet potato and avocado has my heart and this one tasted SO good. 

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Rainbow Veggie Bowl with Jalapeño Ranch // There’s our lives before jalapeño ranch and our lives after jalapeño ranch and the after is infinitely better.  That creamy dreamy dressing full of fresh herb flavor, combined with chewy grains, juicy summer vegetables and buttery avocado will have you feeling like you’re living your best life (even if 2017 feels like a tumultuous and terrifying time to be alive…).

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Kale Salad Bowl with Tahini // You may not know this, but tahini and feta are Best Friends Forever.  They just go together so perfectly.  And you know anything involving sweet potato is bound to be my favorite thing.  We’ve made this salad lots of times and I’m excited about how dang good it tastes EVERY SINGLE TIME.  

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Creamy Thai Sweet Potato Curry  // We love a good curry dinner and I’m head over heels for basically anything involving sweet potato, so this meal is an absolute winner in my book.  Bite after bite, I can’t get over how luscious this tastes.  Plus you can home-make the curry paste and feel like you’re really on your A game.

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Dijon-Herb Crusted Salmon with Creamy Dill Sauce + Warm Buttered Radish and Edamame Salad //  I went through a real fish phase this year and this meal helped fuel it.  But just look at that crispy panko topping, creamy yogurt drizzle and herbaceous spring veggies on the side.  Too good to be true. 

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Creamy Carrot and Herb Linguine // How’s it made of zoodles but also really good?  I didn’t think those things belonged together until we made this then re-made it later.  Open your heart to zoodles in cream sauce and it will love you back.  Or something like that.  Also, fresh tarragon really makes this dish.

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Halibut Foil Packs with Chile Butter// I’ve really come to love a compound butter.  And a foil pack.  And a dinner that only take a few minutes to put together.  I put just a little bit more butter than it called for and I stand by this decision 100%.  

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Easy One-Bowl Upside-Down Cake// Bon Appétit really talked this one up as being foolproof but sometimes reality doesn’t live up to expectations.  Happy to report that is is NOT one of those times.  This cake really was dang easy and I was so in love with the look of the smooth pale yellow batter that I wanted to paint my room in it.  That was a weird thing to say, probably.  I made it once with cherries and once with blueberries and both turned out beautifully.  Also: DO NOT SKIP THE WHIPPED SOUR CREAM ON TOP.  

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Thai Sweet Potato Noodle Bowls// Probably goes against everything Cooking Light is about to sub full fat coconut milk, use the entire block of tofu and eat four servings in three servings but whatever because that’s probably what made this dish so good.  P.S. Here I am eating sweet potato noodles now?!  Who am I even? 

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Garlic Mac n Cheese// We made this A LOT this year and I was shocked at how creamy and “cheesy” it tasted EVERY SINGLE TIME.  I cannot tell you how many times this recipe is the solution to needing a quick dinner because if you roast the garlic earlier in the week, this takes something like 15 minutes to make.  An incredible bonus!

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The Easiest (vegan) Pancakes// Turns out the easiest vegan pancake recipe doubles as the easiest vegan waffle.  It’s crispy, it’s just barely sweet, it’s perfect. 

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Simple Flaky Crab Cakes // Joey made these (again) and I loved them (again)!  Mostly these are perfect because it’s big on crab flavor and if you get yourself some good crab from the same city your aunt lives in (Slidell, LA, what’s up?!) then you can forget for a second that you live in a landlocked state that has generally poor seafood options. 

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BBQ Chicken Burgers // I already had go-to turkey and beef burgers in my arsenal but this chicken burger completes the trifecta and now I think I’m set for life!  We also made them for our summer BBQ and I ate one and couldn’t get over how juicy (I think the secret is shredded cheddar INSIDE the patty!) and perfectly BBQ-flavored it was.

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Summer Bliss Bowls with Sweet Potato Falafel// Heirloom cherry tomatoes, goat cheese, roasted corn, fresh dill, falafel made of sweet potatoes (!!!) and a generous drizzle of jalapeño ranch?  INCREDIBLE.  I wrote about a lot of food in this post but none that made me hungrier than this one right here. 

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Grilled Chicken Wings with Shishito Peppers and Herbs // Except not with shishito peppers because after getting hooked on them last summer, we could not get our hands on them this summer.  Why?!  But it’s okay because these wings, with their lime vinaigrette and charred bits were the best 4th of July meal almost ever. (July 4)

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Charred Broccoli Tacos with “Chorizo” Dip & Avocado Cream // It’s a lot of work to make all the elements of a meal yourself, but sometimes, like when you make panko-crusted broccoli and a smoky dip and a creamy avocado sauce and flour tortillas even, it is so so worth the effort.  This meal was incredibly flavorful and I loved every single bite every time I made them this year.

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Summer Squash & Basil Pasta// Did you know you can caramelize zucchini?!  I didn’t until we made this super summery pasta and then life as we knew it had changed for the better.  The sauce is the star (obviously) but honorable mention goes to fresh basil, melty cheese and Aleppo pepper a quick blend of three parts paprika to one part cayenne.  Joey and I were both head over heels for this pasta dinner. 

P.S. We made this again towards the end of summer and cut the squash really thin, then cooked it down for something like 30 minutes and it was EVEN BETTER!

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Spaghetti with Tomato & Walnut Pesto //  One of the happiest moments of my life last summer was when I was sitting on the couch, totally engrossed in Summer Olympic coverage, and Joey presented me with this bowl of pasta.  Recreated that moment this summer (minus Olympic swimming, plus outdoor reading) and upon second taste, THIS PASTA IS STILL INCREDIBLE!  The sauce is so luscious and every one of the ingredients that goes into it shines through in the final product.  

Basic B. Burrito // Guys, I don’t know why, but this humble burrito makes me downright giddy every time I pack myself one for lunch and get to unwrap that foil and dive into that bean, mozzarella, goat cheese, avocado, hot sauce combo.  I dunno, maybe I just eat too many lunch salads so this change up feels life-changing?  Let’s not question it. 

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Grilled Chicken Tacos // Alright, I’m just going to be honest and tell you I bought jarred tomatillo salsa instead of making it.  Sometimes, shortcuts are where it’s at.  The beauty of this recipe is that you basically don’t even let it marinate and it’s still juicy and flavorful and holds up really well to the avocado, radish, cilantro and salsa that you MUST top your tacos with. 

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Grilled Lamb Rib Chops // Sometimes I LOVE lamb and other times, I’m really turned off by it.  Luckily, these chops were a LOVE moment.  We marinated it in some salt, pepper, olive oil, rosemary and garlic then Joey grilled it to perfection and it tasted so incredible, especially alongside those sauces and flatbread.  A lamb win for sure! 

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Creamy Kale and Mushroom Quesadillas // Will I ever grow tired of these quesadillas?  All signs point to no.  I think it’s the double cheese action, plus kale and mushroom sautéed in butter and perfectly griddled tortillas.  So I guess I love everything about them! 

P.S. Spicy Tahini Corn on the Cob is pretty great too.

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Roasted Veggie Mac & Cheese // My mom and I have a term for the way a particularly cheesy dish makes your mouth feel…”cheesy teeth.”  Pretty self-explanatory I’d say.  This mac and cheese definitely left me with “cheesy teeth” but it’s a small price to pay for such a deliciously comforting bowl of food.  I ate something like 5 bowls of this in a week and loved it every time!

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Chicken, Bacon, Date and Brussels Sprouts Quinoa Power Salad// Making salad for one on a Friday night sounds sad but I was ANYTHING BUT SAD when I dove into this decked out bowl of goodness.  Just know that this salad involves everything good in the world.  Aka bacon, dates, avocado and goat cheese.

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Simple Cinnamon Pumpkin Pancakes// Life felt so good and happy when the stars aligned and I had everything on hand to make these pumpkin pancakes (even shitty non-fat Greek yogurt that shouldn’t exist and why did I even have that in the fridge??) and then when I took my first bite and they were delightfully soft and cinnamon-y and perfect.

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Crispy Baked Chicken Wings+Jalapeño Popper Bean Dip// I am still very new to the homemade wing game but I made the ginger-soy glaze from this recipe and it blew me away!  I was in such a little happy place, sitting on the couch with this plate, not caring whatsoever that the Cowboys were A) playing and B) losing.  And don’t think these wings overshadowed the bean dip because it was EQUALLY GOOD.  Joey couldn’t stop telling me how much he loved it and that’s a win in my book.

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Turkey Pot Pie Hand Pies// I usually laugh when I see those “creative ways to use up your Thanksgiving leftovers” articles because um don’t you just eat them like normal for two days and feel really happy about it?  But then I saw this hand pie recipe and thought it looked so good that it changed my mind completely.  Half the credit goes to Dufour Puff Pastry for being so buttery, flaky and straight delectable.

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Miso Caramel-Apple Pie// You know when you make something for a crowd and have a feeling of self-consciousness about it and all you’re really hoping for is unanimous praise?  Okay, that did not happen when I brought this pie to Thanksgiving, BUT I happened to think it was incredible.  And I also know that three attempts at caramel sauce went into it, so I’ll just give myself the praise.

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Black and Blue Steak Salad + Mini Baked Sweet Potatoes // Joey made me this dinner and though my initial enthusiasm was for his beautiful plating, I had even more enthusiasm for how good this meal tasted!  It was a salad but it somehow still felt like comfort food and I’m starting to think a steak salad is one of life’s greatest pleasures.  

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Eggnog Banana Bread // I bought six mini bread loaves at Michael’s then had to go back and switch one out when I got home and realized it was cracked but you know what, it was worth it because these were adorable, unbelievably moist (especially for being whole wheat!) and I loved that little glaze on top.  

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Christmas Lunch // Okay, I’m sort of cheating but it’s my last item and I have food writing fatigue.  Plus, I honestly couldn’t single out one dish we made for Christmas that was “the best,” as much as I can say the entire spread together was the best.  We got lots of compliments on all we made and I can think of no better Christmas present than that!

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And on that note, I’m signing off.  I’ll be back with the best restaurant meals we ate in 2017 shortly!